Preventing Physical Decline In Middle Age Helps Preserve Good Health Later in Life

Source: Laura Landro. Wall Street Journal Health Blog 11 April 2012

Middle age is a critical time to prevent physical declines that creep up with advancing years, according to the Health Matters column in the Next special report today.

With more than 70 million Americans who will be 65 and older by 2030, the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Johns Hopkins University are conducting a new National Health and Aging Trends study, a long-term research program that will measure, among other things, the need for help in activities such as walking, dressing, and getting into and out of bed.

More than 9,000 men and women over 65 have been asked to participate. Richard Suzman, director of the National Institute on Aging’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, tells the Health Blog that the findings will be used to help shape policies for preventing functional decline and disability as Americans get older.

But the study is also designed to get a better picture of why disability levels among older people, which had been declining for many years thanks in part to improved treatment for cardiovascular disease, have flattened out and have remained more or less constant since 2000. “We are anxious to find out what happened,” Suzman says. Another federal health and retirement study has found that increasing levels of disability over 55 are linked to the rise in obesity, he notes.

Judith Kasper, principal investigator of the study at Hopkins, says the survey will collect a wide ragne of information about health, medical care and the living environment, as well as economic and emotional well-being and the ability to participate in everyday activities that people value such as preparing meals. “For individuals and their families, late-life functioning plays an important role in quality of life, and at the societal level it plays very directly into health care utilization and costs,” Kasper says. “You can’t develop sound policy without an understanding of the basic issues and what’s